Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan, is going to be hard to review properly. Because it hurts to think about. But in a good way.
I picked up Say You’re One of Them in a thrift store. It had Oprah’s sticker on it. She has good taste in books, right? Also, it was written by a Nigerian, and I’m trying to expand my worldview. It had beautiful cover art. And it was only 25 cents. Worst possible scenario: waste of 25 cents. Easy decision.
This is a beautiful, awful book. It’s a collection of short stories about awful things happening to children in Africa. Each story is set in a different country, involving different children, and different problems. A Kenyan slum. An Ethiopian child who isn’t allowed to play with her Muslim friend anymore. A Muslim teenager on a bus full of angry Christians. The Rwandan genocide through the eyes of a little girl.
These stories are beautifully written, haunting, and surprisingly not as depressing as you would think from the topic material. Akpan openly acknowledges the ugliest parts of African history, politics, and culture—from the perspective of someone who has lived to see many of them—yet he brings a soft note of hope by choosing children as protagonists. He also doesn’t shy away from the difficulties caused by religion, even though he himself is a Jesuit priest. His stories don’t propose a solution, but they give you a better perspective, and something of a call to action.
Don’t read this unless you’re willing to wade through some pretty deep crap. But when you’re ready, read it. It’s a masterpiece. ♦